While Alberta farm groups are congratulating the UCP Government on their new Farm Freedom and Safety Act, the proposed legislation doesn't sit well with the Alberta Federation of Labour.
The new act set to replace the NDP's contentious Bill 6 includes an exemption for small farm employers, takes away farm workers' ability to form a union, and allows larger employers to choose between Worker's Compensation Board coverage or private insurance.
In a statement, Alberta Federation of Labour President, Gil McGowan, says it's a giant step backwards for farm and ranch employees.
McGowan says they're now back to no longer having the basic workplace rights enjoyed by their counterparts in every other province.
"Removing mandatory Workers Compensation coverage sets a horrible precedent," he said. "Albertans will no longer be able to track farm and ranch injury rates for the province and farms with private insurance will be a risk for lawsuits."
In the meantime, Team Alberta representing the Province's four crop commissions, is welcoming the legislation, saying the Government of Alberta is focusing on education over legislation when it comes to farm and ranch safety.
They're commending both the Agriculture Minister and Associate Minister of Red Tape Reduction on implementing what they heard from farmers during the consultations over the summer, and creating a new "common sense and flexible" farm safety regime.
The farm groups says while there are exemptions for smaller operations, the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act will remain as a strong baseline of safety standards while reducing burdensome regulatory requirements they say often don’t apply to small farms.
"The focus on education and best management practices will help address labour shortages and other regulatory requirements that don’t improve safety practices," Team Alberta said in a statement.
The Farm Freedom and Safety Act was tabled in the Alberta legislature by Agriculture Minister, Devin Dreeshen, on Wednesday, November 20.
When Dreeshen announced the legislation earlier this week, he was asked what his response would be to critics concerned about a division in farm workers by allowing smaller operations to be exempt, but workers employed by larger operations will still have insurance coverage.
"I would say that the critics don't understand agriculture," Dreeshen said.
He says what farmers are telling them is, smaller, mostly family farms are unique, as the extra regulation and costs stress their margins.
"This is the Government of Alberta understanding that, respecting that, and that's why we went down this path."
If passed, all the changes will be in effect as of March 1, 2020.
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